Saturday, September 7, 2013

Notes on Shiloh by Bobbie Ann Mason

Shiloh, by Bobbie Ann Mason is the main story of a collection of short stories, Shiloh and Other Stories (1982). It tells the story of a problem marriage between a working-class couple from Western Kentucky. The problem, never spoken of between husband and wife, is that an infant child died of SIDS.

Bobbie Ann Mason's short stories often take place in Western Kentucky, a region of coal fields, small farms and small towns. The area is comprised of less rugged mountains than the Appalachian Mountains to the east. It separates the Blue Grass region of the central part of the state from the Mississippi Plateau.

Norma Jean, the protagonist, works in a drug store and is on her feet all day. named Norma was given her name by her mother Mabel Beasley, in honor of Marilyn Monroe. Norma's husband, Leroy, whose name means "the King," is an injured and out-of-work truck driver who dreams of building his wife a log cabin. They live in a town, never named, in Western Kentucky, population 11,500, no more than 700 people more than 20 years before, with its new subdivisions.

Mason dates the story by reference to shopping malls, new sub-divisions, Norma's work at the cosmetics counter in Rexall, and a nostalgic comment about sixties music.

Mabel dreams of Norma and Leroy taking a trip to Shiloh as a second honeymoon. Norma reluctantly agrees. Leroy is excited, but has little understanding of Shiloh's significance as a battlefield and , personally to Mabel and Norma. Among the places they visit in Shiloh is a log cabin, the only surviving building from the Civil War battle.

Manse George cabin Shiloh, image National Parks

In Shiloh, Norma announces her intention to leave Leroy. He hears her plea, but still holds out hope. The story ends with Norma looking out over the Tennessee River that flows nearby waving her arms, Leroy watches from a distance, trying to interpret its meaning.

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